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Eckenstein, Lina, d. 1931 / Woman under monasticism: chapters on saint-lore and convent life between A.D. 500 and A.D. 1500 (1896)


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Art Industries generally.

FROM consideration of the nuns of different orders we turn to enquire more closely into the general occupations and productive capacities of nuns during early Christian times and the Middle Ages. It seems worth while collecting the information scattered here and there on the work done by these women, since the grouping together of various notices gives some, though necessarily an incomplete, idea of the pursuits to which nuns were devoted when not engaged in religious service. The work done, as we shall see, includes art productions of every kind, weaving, embroidery, painting and illuminating as well as writing, which during the period under consideration must be looked upon as an art.

From the first monastic life had been dominated by the idea that idleness is at the root of all evil. In a well ordered religious house the times for work and for leisure, for eating, sleeping and for attendance at divine service were fixed by custom and were enforced by routine; we shall treat later of the way in which the day was divided by the canonical hours. The purpose of the ordinary settlement, beyond observing the hours, was to educate girls, to train novices and to provide suitable occupation for the nuns of the convent. In all houses reading and copying books of devotion was included among the occupations, and in some, the cultivation of art in one or more of its branches. Between the 8th and the 14th century religious settlements were the centres of production in handicrafts and in art industry; to study the art of this period, it is necessary to study the productions of the monasteries.

  [p. 223]  

A sense of joint ownership united the members of each of the religious settlements, and this was especially true of the older Benedictine houses which have fitly been likened to small republics. To the convent inmate the monastery was the centre of his interests and affections, and the house's possessions were in a sense his own. He was proud of them and proud if he could add to their store. Increased communication with the south and the east brought books, materials and other beautiful objects which the inmates of the religious settlement zealously copied and multiplied. During times of political and social unrest, while states were in their making, the goldsmith, the scribe, the illuminator, and the embroiderer, all found protection and leisure in the religious house. The so-called dark ages, the centuries between 800 and 1200, cease to be dark as soon as one enquires into the contents of monastic libraries, and the monotony of convent routine ceases to appear monotonous on entering one of the old treasuries and reflecting on the aims and aspirations which were devoted to producing this wealth in design and ornamentation, the bare fragmentary remains of which are to us of to-day a source of unending delight and wonder.

Some of the houses ruled by women like so many of those ruled by men became important centres of culture, where the industrial arts were cultivated, and where books were prized, stored and multiplied. Nuns as well as monks were busy transcribing manuscripts, a task as absorbing as it was laborious, for the difficulties in the way of learning to write can hardly be overestimated considering the awkwardness of writing materials and the labour involved in fabricating parchment, ink and pigment. But as the old writer with a play on the words armarium, bookcase, and armatorium, armoury, remarks, 'a monastery without its book-case is what a castle is without its armoury. And all houses, whether for monks or nuns, took rank as centres of culture in proportion to their wealth in books.

Of the books over which the early scribe spent so much time and trouble, comparatively speaking only a few survive. All books are worn out by use, especially books of devotion; many were destroyed when printing came in and parchment was handy to the book-binder; many when the Reformation destroyed convents. The early scribe usually omitted to add his name to the book he was copying. In the books which are preserved the names of men scribes are few, and the names of women scribes fewer still, though they do occasionally occur. Wattenbach, a student of manuscripts   [p. 224]   and of the medieval art of writing, has collected a number of names of women whom he has found mentioned as scribes. He gives them, adding the remark that other books no doubt were written by nuns where mention of the fact is omitted.[1*]

It will be profitable to recall these names and examine the references to work done by nuns as calligraphists and miniature painters, for here and there women attained great proficiency in these arts. The amount of writing done in women's houses compared with that done by men was no doubt small, for it was not in this direction that the industry of the nun lay. But what remains shows that where scope to activity was given talents of no mean kind were developed.

In some departments of art industry, especially in weaving church hangings, and embroidering altar cloths and church vestments, nuns greatly distinguished themselves. In his comprehensive work on church furniture Bock is eloquent on the industry of nuns. He first praises their early proficiency in the art of weaving and passes on to the art of embroidery. 'This art also,' he says, 'was chiefly cultivated in religious houses by pious nuns up to the 12th century. The inmates of women's establishments were especially devoted to working decorations for the altar. Their peaceful seclusion was spent in prayer and in doing embroidery. What work could seem worthier and nobler than artistic work intended for the decoration of the altar? It is in the nunnery that the art of design as well as the technique of weaving were brought to their highest perfection.'[2*]

Owing to the perishable material of this work the amount which was done of course far exceeded what has been preserved. We often come across remarks on such work, rarely across remains of it, and we are obliged to take on trust the praise bestowed by early writers as so little exists by which we can judge for ourselves. But enough remains to bear out the praise which contemporaries bestow on the beauties of hangings and vestments manufactured by nuns, and to give us the highest opinion of their industry and their artistic skill.

Among women generally embroidery has always had votaries, and in the nunnery it found a new development. During early Christian ages nuns worked large hangings for decorating the basilica walls, and short hangings for the square altar; and when the Gothic style took the place of the earlier Byzantine in architecture,   [p. 225]   rendering such hangings superfluous, they devoted their energies to working church vestments and furniture.

The proficiency acquired by the girl in the convent was not lost if she returned to the world. We hear a good deal of badges and standards worked by ladies at baronial courts during the age of romance, and their work was no doubt influenced by what had been evolved in church decoration.

In studying the art industry of the convent, we needs must treat of work produced with the brush and the pen side by side with work produced with the needle. At two periods in history, the 8th and 13th centuries, England takes the lead in art industry, and at both periods there is reference to excellent work done by nuns.

A former chapter has mentioned how Eadburg, the friend of Boniface, was at work in her monastery in Thanet in the 8th century, transcribing scriptural writings on parchment in gold lettering, an art in which she excelled.[3*] Among the gifts sent to Boniface by lady abbesses in England vestments and altar-cloths are mentioned which had without a doubt been worked in the houses over which these ladies presided if not actually made by themselves.[4*]

The importance and the symbolical meaning which early Christians attached to death supplies the reason why the abbess of Repton in Mercia sent a winding-sheet to St Guthlac during his lifetime.[5*] Cuthberht of Lindisfarne was wrapped in a shroud which his friend Aelflaed, abbess of Whitby, had sent.[6*] Both were of linen, for early Christians, who were content to wear rough woollen clothes during their lifetime, thought it permissible to be buried in linen and silk. Thus we read that Aethelthrith the abbess of Ely sent to Cuthberht a present of silk stuffs which she decorated with gold and jewels and which were shown at his resting-place at Durham till the 12th century.[7*] The silk robe on which the body of Wilfrith (t 709) had been laid was sent as a present to an abbess Cynethrith.[8*]

About this time silk, which had been rarely seen north of the Alps, was frequently sent from the east and was greatly prized. It has been mentioned in a previous chapter how Radegund at Poitiers received a gift of silk from a relation in Constantinople,[9*] and   [p. 226]   among the charges brought by the turbulent Chrodield against the abbess Leubover was that she had appropriated part of an altar-cloth to make a robe for her niece. Caesarius of Aries in his rule for women forbade their working embroidery except for purposes of church decoration. Repeated complaints were made during the early ages in England against nuns for wearing embroidery and silks. The council of Cloveshoe of the year 747 censures the undue attention given to dress. 'Time shall be devoted more to reading books and to chanting psalms than to weaving and decorating (plectendis) clothes with various colours in unprofitable richness.'[10*] But to control the standard of clothes remained a standing difficulty in all convents, and especially in those of women.[11*]

Apart from personal decoration the arts of weaving and embroidering were encouraged in every way. 'Towards the 10th century the art of making large hangings had so far progressed in England,' says Bock, 'that large scenes with many figures were represented.'[12*]

Inside the cloister and out of it the art flourished, and the mention of gifts of hangings becomes frequent. Thus Ealdhelm in his 'Praise of Virginity' (c. 7) speaks of hangings made by the nuns, while reference is made to secular women at the time of the Conquest who did remarkable work. Among them were Aiwid and Liwid who practised the air of embroidery and taught it.[13*] Emma, otherwise Aelfgifu (†1052), after her marriage to King Knut, made a gift of hangings and vestments to the abbey of Ely, some of which were embroidered with gold and jewels on silk, others of green and purple colour were of such splendour that their like could not be found elsewhere in England.[14*] Again, Aelflaed, the wife of Edward the Confessor (†1066), made hangings with pictures of the apostles for Frithstan of Winchester.

'We know,' says Michel in his work on silk and the use of it in embroidery,[15*] 'that the women of England, long before the Conquest, worked assiduously at weaving and embroidering, and that they were as distinguished in this branch of art as men were in others.' Unfortunately no specimens of the work done in religious settle   [p. 227]   ments during this early period have been preserved, so far as I am aware. We do not know what artist designed and executed the famous Bayeux tapestry which is worked in woollen cross-stitch on a strip of linen; but it was certainly not the work of nuns.

The references to weaving and embroidering during the later period are fewer, but a certain amount of the work done in England has been preserved, though the clue as to where and by whom it was done is generally wanting. While weaving and embroidery were throughout important branches of home industry, art-needlework seems to have owed its higher development to nuns.

In connection with the prioress Christina of Mergate we hear that she had worked three mitres and several pairs of sandals in wonderful work (opens mirifici) as a present for Pope Hadrian IV († 159), who was of English origin, and perhaps known to her. Her work was carried to Rome by the abbot of St Albans, who had affronted Hadrian in early days and wished to propitiate him; we hear that the Pope was so delighted with the work that he could not refuse the present.[16*]

England was, indeed, at this time famous for its embroidery, and her products were much admired abroad. In the words of Prof. Middleton:

'Another minor branch of art, in which England during the 13th century far surpassed the rest of the world, was the art of embroidering delicate pictures in silk, especially for ecclesiastical vestments. The most famous embroidered vestments now preserved in various places in Italy are the handiwork of English embroiderers between 1250 and 1300, though their authorship is not as a rule recognized by their present possessors. The embroidered miniatures on these marvellous pieces of needlework resemble closely in style the illuminations in fine Anglo-Norman manuscripts of the 13th century and in many cases have obviously been copied from manuscript miniatures.'[17*]

A conclusion to be possibly drawn from this is that some of the early work which has come back to this country from Italy may in reality be English. There is no doubt it is curiously like the work done in England.[18*] In a footnote to the above passage Prof. Middleton points out that the Popes of the period, on sending the   [p. 228]   pall to a newly elected English archbishop, suggested that they would like in return embroidered vestments of English work, 'opus anglicum,' a term at one time applied to work done in a special style.[19*] Its peculiarity seems to have consisted in the working of figures in coloured floss silk on a piece of material, generally linen; on this the silk was worked in close-lying chain stitches, which, following the contours of face and drapery, entirely covered the material just as the strokes of a brush in a miniature cover the parchment. The background to these figures was also covered with coloured floss silk, but this was not worked in chain stitch but in various styles of straight close-lying stitches in diaper pattern. Prof. Middleton, in the passage quoted above, says that the embroiderer copied the miniature painter; in composing scenes and arranging figures this would of course be the case. But considering the styles of some of the backgrounds, it seems possible that in his turn the miniature painter borrowed from the embroiderer, by taking the idea of filling up the background to his figures with lines and diagonal patterns, which lines and patterns had been suggested to the embroiderer by the texture of the stuff he was covering. Gold and silver threads were liberally used in the 'opus anglicum',[20*] and even jewels may have been introduced.[21*] The general effect was that of a shining, glossy picture, and the care and industry needed to produce it exceeded even that required in miniatures.

The English monk Matthew Paris († 1259) describes an incident illustrating at once the excellence of the embroidery done in England and the rapacity of Pope Innocent lV. The Pope he tells us was struck by the splendour of the embroidery worn by the English clergy who came to Rome in the year 1246, and asked where it was made. 'In England,' he was told. He replied, 'England is really a storehouse of delight; truly it is an inexhaustible fountain, and where there is so much, much can be taken.' And he sent letters to the abbots of the Cistercian houses in England, ordering them to forward to him gold embroidery of   [p. 229]   this kind, 'as though they could get it for nothing.' Curiously enough it was supplied to them by London merchants.[22*]

A certain number of pieces of early English embroidery now form part of the collection of art-needlework on view at South Kensington. Among them is a cope, nine feet seven by four feet eight; it is considered a splendid example of the 'opus anglicum,' and as is suggested 'may have been worked by the nuns of some convent which stood in or near Coventry.[23*] ' There was no nunnery in Coventry in the Middle Ages, the nearest nunnery of importance would be the one at Wroxhall. 'This handsome cope,' says Dr Rock, 'so very remarkable on account of its comparative perfect preservation, is one of the most beautiful among the several liturgic vestments of the olden period anywhere to be now found in Christendom.'[24*] It is made of linen entirely covered with embroidery in floss silk. The space is divided up into barbed interlacing quatrefoils, of which in the present state of the cope there are fifteen. These enclose pictures representing Michael overcoming Satan, the Crucifixion, the risen Christ, Christ crowned as King, Christ in the garden, the death of the Virgin, her burial, and single figures of the apostles which are placed in the quatrefoils along the lower edge of the cope. Among them are St Philip, St Bartholomew, St Peter and St Andrew. Other pictures of the apostles are wanting, for the lower edge in some places is cut away. The faces, hands and coloured draperies of these figures are worked in coloured floss silk in the way described above, and the background of all the quatrefoils is in diaper pattern, worked in short straight stitches in a dark green colour. The spaces between the quatrefoils were filled with crimson silk which has faded to a rich brown, and in each of these spaces stands a winged angel, those nearest Christ standing on a wheel. Their faces and draperies are worked in similar style to those of the other figures, and the dividing bands which mark off the quatrefoils are worked in a variety of stitches; sometimes loose threads are laid on and sewn over, sometimes gold thread is worked in. In spite of many colours having faded the effect of the work is splendid; no textile fabric of any period exceeds it in evenness and finish, to say nothing of beauty of design.

  [p. 230]  

The edge of the cope in one place is mended by cutting and sewing together. A band of embroidery which represents a succession of armorial bearings worked in small cross-stitch is carried right round it. This band is considered to be fifty years later in date than the cope, and is somewhat different in style. Its addition suggests that some accident happened to the cope, perhaps by fire, and that a piece had to be cut away and a new finish given to the edge.

At the time of the dissolution this cope was in the possession of the nuns of Sion, a house founded under peculiar circumstances as late as the 15th century. Its inmates left England in a body and carried the cope away with them in their wanderings. They finally settled at Lisbon, where the house continued to be recruited by English women. At the beginning of this century they returned to England, and the cope was acquired by the Museum authorities.

In looking at this piece of work it is distressing to think of the way in which the property of monasteries in England was appropriated, scattered, and destroyed at the dissolution. In no European country was the heirloom of medieval art so uniformly effaced and defaced. The old inventories give some idea of the art treasures that had accumulated in monasteries in the course of centuries, but very few fragments were saved from the rapacity of Henry VIII and his agents.

From England we pass to Germany to consider the remains of decorative work done by nuns in various departments of art between the 8th and the 14th centuries. Influence from two sides gave a new direction to art-industry; on one side was the influence of Roman art due to contact with France; on the other the influence of Byzantine art due to intercourse with the East.

A high standard of work was soon attained in France; and at Bourges, early in the 7th century, we hear of the abbess Eustadiola making many gifts to her settlement, vases of gold and silver ornamented with jewels, crosses, candelabra and chalices. 'Also she made holy vestments,' says her biographer,[25*] and decked the altar with costly hangings which with her own hands and through the help of her women she embellished with embroidery and with gold fringes; besides the hangings with which she decorated the walls.'

This active interest spread from France into the convents of the Low Countries during the 8th century, in one of which the sisters Harlind and Reinhild did excellent work, which is highly   [p. 231]   praised. They were contemporaries of Boniface and Willibrord, who visited and consecrated them in their settlement at Maaseyck.

There is extant an account, written between 850 and 880, of the education they received and the work to which they were devoted. We learn from this account that Harlind and Reinhild showed a serious disposition at a youthful age, and that their parents were persuaded to send them to the religious house for women at Valenciennes on the river Schelde, where, in the words of the 9th century writer, 'they were instructed in reading, in chanting (modulatione), in singing the psalms and also in what now-a-days is deemed wonderful, in writing and in painting (scribendo atque pingendo), a task laborious even to men. Likewise they were carefully trained in every department of work such as is done by women's hands, in various designs, in different styles; so that they attained a high standard of excellence in spinning, weaving, designing, sewing, and embroidering with gold and jewels on silk.'[26*]

When their education was finished the girls returned to their parents, but they found no scope for their energies at home and decided to devote themselves to religion. Their parents agreed to found a settlement for them at Maaseyck, where at first they had twelve women with them. But many noble as well as freeborn girls placed a black veil on their heads, as the biographer says, and came to them hoping to be taken into the settlement.

We hardly need to be told that these gifted sisters abhorred idleness and were devoted to work. Their energies were given to weaving, embroidering and writing. Among other things they had woven with their own hands short curtains, intended no doubt for the altar, which were splendidly embroidered with a variety of designs.[27*] These, in the words of their biographer, 'the holy women embroidered with God and his saints ornate with gold and jewels, and left them behind them in their house. The four gospels, which contain the words and actions of Jesus Christ our Lord, they transcribed with commendable zeal. Likewise a book of psalms, such as we call a psalter, they worked (stylo texuerunt), as well as many other holy writings, which to this day remain in that same place, and are resplendent in new and shining gold, and glowing   [p. 232]   with jewels, so that the work might almost have been done to-day.'

Thus writes the 9th century chronicler. It seems from a remark made by Stadler that some of the vestments they made were sent as a present to Boniface, and samples of their work, it is not stated of what kind, are preserved to this day in the little church of Maaseyck.[28*]

A previous chapter has dealt with the rapid development of women's houses in Saxony in the 10th and 11th centuries. References to the encouragement of art in these convents are numerous; they became storehouses of wealth, partly through gifts bestowed on them by their abbesses and partly owing to the industry of the nuns. The marriage of Otto II with a Greek princess brought Greek decorative work into fashion, and workmen came from Greece into Germany, where they were patronised by bishops and lady abbesses.

Thus at Essen, one of the great Saxon abbacies for women, the art treasury to this day contains the celebrated bronze candelabra made at the command of the abbess Mathilde († 1011)[29*] , and a golden crucifix of Greek workmanship of great beauty which, as its inscription says, was the gift of the abbess Theofanu (1039-- 1054).[30*] This abbess was the granddaughter of Otto II and his Greek wife, and her appointment to the abbacy marks a great advance in the prosperity of the house. The treasury at Essen also contains a Bible cover carved in ivory, which represents the abbess Theofanu depositing a book at the feet of the Virgin.[31*]

An account of the great power and wealth of the abbey at Quedlinburg has already been given. Its treasury (zither) still contains many interesting specimens of early art industry collected in the days of its prosperity.[32*] The splendid cloak worked with figures from the Apocalypse belonging to Otto III was probably made under the direction of his aunt Mathilde, abbess of Quedlinburg († 999). Somewhat later we hear of another sumptuous cloak which the Empress Kunigund († 1040) had made for her husband Heinrich II, and of the wonderful embroidery done in gold on purple by Henrich's sister Gisela († 1037), the wife of Stephen, king of Hungary,   [p. 233]   which seems to have been embroidered in imitation of a painting on stuff preserved at a Benedictine convent near Raab. To the present day this embroidery forms part of the Hungarian coronation robes.[33*] Bock, F., Geschichte der liturg. Gewdnder, 1866, vol. I, 155. It is not directly stated where this work was made, but the general excellence of the work done by nuns,[34*] and the connection of Saxon princesses with convents, suggest the possibility that the work was done in convents.

One of these Saxon princesses, Hedwig († 994), sister of the abbess Gerberg and duchess of Swabia, gave the monks of St Gallen some vestments which she had embroidered herself.[35*] Among them was a white stole (stola) on which were worked in gold a series of pictures representing the 'Marriage of Philology to Mercury,' a subject taken from a story by Martianus Capella, a writer of the 5th century, whose works were much read in nunneries. The story was afterwards translated into German by Notker († 1022), a monk of St Gallen.

A peculiar interest attaches to Agnes, abbess of Quedlinburg (1184--1203). She encouraged art industry in all its branches and under her the nuns made large curtains for church decoration. Some of these are still in existence, and Kugler, the art student, considers them as of great value in the study of the art industry of that period. Agnes herself wrote an account of the property she bequeathed to the monastery, and in it she mentions a golden cup, several silken covers (dorsalia), and hangings.[36*] Her chronicler credits her with writing and illuminating with her own hands books for divine service; and a copy of the gospels, said to have been written by her, is still preserved.[37*] But the great work of her life was the manufacture of wall-hangings, which she and her nuns worked together. One set was intended for the Pope, but was never forwarded to him. Like the vestments made by Hedwig, the subject taken for them was the 'Marriage of Philology to Mercury. One curtain still exists measuring twenty-four feet by twenty; it is of a coarse woollen material, into which large figures are woven, which Kugler thinks must have been designed by two different   [p. 234]   hands. 'While some of the work,' he says,[38*] 'is in no way superior to other pictorial representations of the time, and only here and there in details shows superior skill, other parts though retaining the peculiar style of Byzantine art, show a grace and dignity in the arrangement of the figures, and a perfection in the drawing of drapery, which in works of such an early period arouse admiration in the beholder.' In his handbook on painting Kugler further says that we probably have in them the nearest approach of the art of the time to full perfection.

In describing the curtain he tells us of a manly bearded figure with raised hand, probably intended for the writer Martianus himself; near him stands Mercury half covered by a well-draped toga, a very youthful figure in accordance with the author's description. These and other figures hold scrolls on which their names are woven, but owing to the worn state of the hanging some of the names are gone and some are illegible. Three female figures are designated as 'Manticen,'--whom Mercury would have married had she not preferred Apollo; 'Sichem,'--a name standing for Psyche, whom Cupid had already enticed away according to Martianus; and 'Sophia,'--whom Mercury likewise desired to marry but in vain. All these figures are described by Kugler as splendid, especially that of 'Sichem' whose pose and drapery he pronounces most beautiful.

A crowned figure of a man comes next, with a scroll bearing the words 'happy in wealth' (qua felix copia talis), whom Kugler supposes to be Hymenaeus, and a man and woman joining hands, who are designated as Mercury and Philology. Similar allegorical figures fill the other parts of the curtain. In Kugler's estimation the figures of 'Prudentia' and 'Fortitudo' are strikingly grand; while others, 'Justitia,' 'Temperantia,' and 'Philologia' with her mother 'Pronesis,' are of inferior design.

There is another set of hangings preserved at Halberstadt, which, if the remark of an early chronicler may be believed, was also the work of the abbess Agnes and her nuns.[39*] Kugler however, apparently unacquainted with this statement, places these hangings at a somewhat earlier date, since they are of less finished workmanship, but he admits that 'in spite of their faded colours and their roughness of design, a certain severe dignity cannot be   [p. 235]   denied to these figures which with wide-open eyes stare at the beholder.'[40*]

We have a description of these curtains from Büsching, who travelled in quest of monastic treasures in the beginning of this century.[41*] They measure three-and-a-half by fifteen feet. On the centre piece a king (God?) is represented on a throne, with one hand raised, the other holding a sceptre; Cato and Seneca, each bearing a written scroll, sit on either side. Next to them come six apostles, sitting two and two under a canopy, each bearing a scroll with his name--another instance of how readily art in the 12th century grouped together figures of Christian and classical origin, where it was an object to unite the conceptions of religion and philosophy; then Christ, pictured under a rainbow arch, which is supported by angels. On Christ's further side come the other six apostles similarly arranged, and then follow scenes illustrating Old Testament history, such as Jacob's dream; Abraham visited by angels; the sacrifice of Isaac;--in these scenes the figures are comparatively small and of inferior design to the larger ones. Judging from Büsching's description, the style of the tapestry is the same as that of the manuscript illustrations of the time. The background is uniformly of one colour, and the contours of the figures and their draperies are in thick brown outline, the intervening spaces being filled with different colours. Kugler compares the pictorial effect of these hangings with that of the miniatures contemporaneously painted in the abbey of Hohenburg under the abbess Herrad, of whose work we shall speak presently. They recall the dignified and somewhat sombre character of Byzantine art.

There is plenty of information from the Continent to show that nuns belonging to houses of different religious orders were equally industrious at the loom and with the needle.

Thus at Goss, formerly a Benedictine nunnery near Loeben in Steier the church still treasures a complete set of vestments, ornatus integer,' worked by the nuns between 1275 and 1300 during the rule of 'abbatissa Chunegundis.' Bock describes them as most curious and beautiful, worked on linen with coloured silks in a design of fantastic animals and flowers.[42*]

Again at Wienhausen near Celle several ancient wall-hangings are preserved which were woven by the nuns of the Cistercian settlement there, and show their industry and skill, and the readi   [p. 236]   ness with which secular subjects were treated in the convent. On one which dates from the 14th century the story of Tristan and Isold is represented; on another hunting scenes; and on a third the figures of the prophets.[43*]

At Heiningen near Wolfenbüttel, a house of Austin nuns, the inmates wove hangings with allegorical figures which are still in existence. At Lune, Wende, Erfurt and at the Cistercian house of Ebsdorf wall-hangings were made which are still preserved, and show the ability of the nuns who worked at the loom between the 13th and 15th centuries.[44*] We are indebted to Bock for a comprehensive treatise on church decoration and vestments. He also made a large collection of specimens of such work, but it has apparently been scattered. Some part of it has been acquired by the authorities at the South Kensington Museum where it is at present on view.

From these examples of art-needlework and tapestry, we must turn to the art of writing and decorating books. We hear of a woman calligraphist in connection with one of the ancient monasteries in Bavaria, the fame of whose industry was carried on through centuries.[45*] The monastery of Wessobrunn had been founded in the 8th century; it included a community of nuns as well as of monks, the dwelling allotted to the nuns being spoken of as the Parthenon, a term sometimes applied to a religious house for women in these districts. In the words of the monkish historian who wrote about 1513: 'the dwellings of the monks were where they are now, but those of the nuns where the parish church now stands.' Here between the years 1057 and 1130 Diemud the nun was active as a scribe, the amount of whose work in the estimation of many 'exceeded what could be done by several men.' She had become a professed nun at an early age and 'was most skilful in the art of writing; for while she is not known to have composed any work of her own, yet she wrote with her own hand many volumes in a most beautiful and legible character both for divine service and for the library of the monastery, which volumes are enumerated in a list written by herself in a certain plenarius.' This list which is extant includes works to the number of forty-five, which were highly prized during the nun's lifetime and had a considerable market value. We find in the list 'a Missal with Gradual   [p. 237]   and Sequences' given to the bishop of Trier, and a 'book of Offices with the Baptismal Service,' given to the bishop of Augsburg. A 'bibliotheca,' that is, a Bible, in two volumes, written by Diemud, was given by the monastery of Wessobrunn in exchange for an estate at Peissenburg. Besides these works the list mentions another Bible in three volumes, books containing the gospels and lessons, writings of Gregory and Augustine, and the Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius. In course of time these books were scattered, lists of those which remained at Wessobrunn being made from time to time. At the sequestration of the monastery at the beginning of the 19th century only fifteen volumes written by Diemud remained, which were taken to Munich. They are said to be of rare beauty, distinguished by highly ornate initial letters and by small writing which is most elegant.[46*] An example of this writing was reproduced by Hefner in the hope that it might lead to the identification of other books written by Diemud which may have found their way into other libraries and be still in existence.

Contemporaneously with Diemud we find another Bavarian nun, Leukardis, active as a scribe at Mallersdorf; she is said to have been of Scottish origin and she knew Scotch (or Irish?), Greek, Latin, and German, and did so much good work that the monk Laiupold, who was also devoted to writing, established an anniversary in her memory.[47*]

The nuns of Admunt in Bavaria are also spoken of as devoted to transcribing, and Wattenbach comments on the neat and elegant way in which they mended the parchment leaves of their manuscripts with coloured silken thread.[48*]

Again a manuscript written for Marbach about the year 1149 by Gutta von Schwarzenthan is described as splendid. It contains the martyrology of Usuard, the Rule of St Augustine with the comments of Hugo of St Victor, the constitutions of Marbach and a homily for every day in the year.[49*] We hear of Emo, abbot of Wittewierum (1204--34), a Premonstrant house which contained men and women, that 'not only did he zealously encourage his canons (clericis) to write, acting as their instructor, but taking count of the diligence of the female sex he set women who were clever at writing to practise the art assiduously.[50*] Wattenbach   [p. 238]   considers that nuns were especially clever in copying books for choir use, and in decorating them.

These notices must suffice. They prove that women leading cloistered lives took an active interest in art-industry in all its branches and that productiveness in their houses was controlled by the same causes which led to the development and decay of art-industry in the houses of men. Excellent work was done in Benedictine houses during early Christian times, that is between the 8th and the 11th centuries; the revival of monastic life in the Middle Ages gave a new impulse to art-industry and the highest degree of excellence was reached in the first half of the 14th century. After that there are signs of a steadily accelerated decline. The reason of this, as a later chapter will show, lies chiefly in the changed conditions of life outside the convent, which made it easier for artisans in the townships to practise those arts and crafts which had hitherto been practised in religious settlements. Writing, decorating, and book-binding,[51*] as well as weaving and embroidering,[52*] were taken up by secular workers and were practised by them on a far larger scale; the spread of education in lay circles and the greater luxury in home surroundings having created a new taste and a new market for artistic productions. The taste of this wider public naturally influenced the character of the work which was produced; cheapness and splendour, if possible the combination of the two, were the qualities chiefly aimed at. These are valuable qualities no doubt in their way, but insistence on them had a discouraging effect on the productiveness of the convent. During the 14th and 15th centuries convents gave up their artistic pursuits. The self-denying industry and unobtrusive earnestness which set the stamp of excellence on the productions of the old hand-worker were no more, for the spirit which looked upon the production of things beautiful as a matter of religion had died out.


[1*] Wattenbach, W., Schriftwesen im Mittelalter, 2nd edit. 1875, p. 374.

[2*] Bock, F., Geschichte der liturg. Gewänder, 3 vols. 1866--71, vol. I, p. 214.

[3*] Cf. above, p. 122.

[4*] Cf. above, pp. 122, 132.

[5*] Cf. above, p. 109.

[6*] Cf. above, p. 106.

[7*] Michel, F., Ètoffes de soie au moyen Age, 1852, vol. 2, p. 339, contains this and other references.

[8*] Eddi, Vita Wilfredi, c. 65 (it is unknown over which house she presided).

[9*] Cf. above, p. 63.

[10*] Haddon and Stubbs, Councils and Ecclesiastical Documents, 1869.

[11*] Cf. above, pp. 103, 115, 198, and below, ch. II, 1.

[12*] Bock, F., Geschichte der liturg. Gewänder, 1866, vol. I, p. 142.

[13*] Michel, F., Étoffes de soie pendant le moyen age, 1852, vol. 2, p. 340.

[14*] Wharton, Anglia Sacra, vol. I, p. 607.

[15*] Michel, F., Étoffes de soie pendant le moyen age, 1852, vol. 2, p. 338.

[16*] Dugdale, Monasticon, 'St. Albans,' vol. 2, p. 186 footnote.

[17*] Middleton, J. H., Illuminated MSS., 1892, p. 112.

[18*] For example in the South Kensington Museum, nr 594-1884, Italian chasuble; nr 1321--1864, panel of canvas, from Bock's Collection (Descriptive Catalogue of Tapestry and Embroidery, 1888).

[19*] Bock, F., Geschichte der liturg. Gerwänder, 1866, vol. I, p. 209, suggests that gold plaques may have been sewn into the work.

[20*] Cf. South Kensington Museum, nr 28--1892, a number of fragments of textile linen worked over in coloured silks and gold thread with scenes taken from the life of the Virgin. English work of the 14th century (Descriptive Catalogue of Tapestry and Embroidery, 1888).

[21*] Michel, F., Étoffes de soie pendant le moyen âge, 1852, vol. p. 337, points out that the expression 'opus anglicum' was applied also to the work of the goldsmith; comp. Ducange, Glossarium, 'Anglicum.' Loculus ille mirificus.. argento et auro gemrnisque, anglico opere subtilitater ac pulcherrime decoratus.'

[22*] Historia Major Angliae, sub anno.

[23*] South Kensington Museum, nr 83--1864 (Descrptive catalogue of Tapestry and Embroidery, 1888).

[24*] Ibid. p. 168.

[25*] A. SS. Boll., St Eustadiola, June 8. Vita, ch. 3.

[26*] A. SS. Boll., SS. Herlindis et Renild, March 22, ch. 5 (videlicet nendo et texendo, creando ac suendo, in auro quoque ac margaritis in serico componendo).

[27*] Ibid. ch. 12 (palliola.. multis modis variisque compositionibus diversae artis innumerabilibus ornamentis).

[28*] Stadler and Heim, Vollstädndiges Heiligenlexicon, 1858, 'Harlindis.'

[29*] Zeitschrit für Christl. Archaeologie, edit. Schnuetgen, 1856, 'Münsterkirche in Essen,' 1860, Beitrage.

[30*] Labarte, Arts industriels au moyen âge, 1872, vol. I, p. 341.

[31*] Ibid. vol. I. p. 84.

[32*] Fritsch, Geschichte des Reichstifts Quedlinburg, 1828, vol. 2, p. 326.

[34*] Schultz, A., Hofisches Leben zur Zeit der Minnesinger, 1889, cites many passages from the epics which refer to embroidery worn by heroes and heroines. A piece of work of special beauty described vol. I, p. 326, had been made by an apostate nun.

[35*] Ekkehard IV., c. 10, in Pertz, Mon. Germ. Scriptores, vol. 2, p. 123.

[36*] Erath, Codex diplom. Quedliburg., 1764, p. 109.

[37*] Brunner, S., Kunstgenossen der Klosterzelle, 1863, vol. 2, p. 555.

[38*] Kugler, F., Kleine Schriften, 1853, vol. I, pp. 635 ff.; part of the hanging is given by Muentz, E., Tapisseries, broderies et dentelles, 1890, plate 2.

[39*] Fitsch, Geschichte des Reichstifts Quedlinburg, 1828, vol. I, p. 121.

[40*] Kugler, F., Kleine Schriften, 1853, vol. I, p. 540.

[41*] Büsching, F. G. Reise durch einige Munsterkirchen 1819, p. 235.

[42*] Bock, F., Geschichte der liturg. Gewänder, 1866, vol. I, p. 227.

[43*] Bock, F., Geschichte der liturg. Gewänder, 1866, vol. 3, pp. 201 ff.

[44*] Ibid. 1866, vol. 3, p. 202.

[45*] Hefner, Oberbair. Archiv, 1830, vol. I, p. 355.

[46*] Westermayer in Allgemeine Deutsche Biog., article 'Diemud' Catalogus Cod. Lat. Bibliothecae Reg. Monac., vol. 7, 1881, nrs 140, 146--154.

[47*] Wattenbach, W., Schriftwesen im Mittelalter, 2nd edit. 1875, p. 374.

[48*] Ibid. p. 177.

[49*] Ibid. p. 304.

[50*] Ibid. p. 374.

[51*] Middleton, J. H. Illuminated MSS., 1892, p. 216.

[52*] Michel, F. Étoffes de soie pendant le moyen âge, 1852, vol. 2, p. 350.

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